I suppose it would be ridiculous of me to say that the two most important ingredients in that delicious antipasti called prosciutto and melon are actually the prosciutto and melon!
It’s not that ridiculous, actually, because it really does matter as to the kind of prosciutto and the kind of melon you use. While there is a swing between honeydew melon (my first choice) and cantaloupe, there is no compromise on the prosciutto. The prosciutto has to be prosciutto di Parma: subtly sweet, silky texture, remarkably distinct flavor. There is nothing quite like prosciutto di Parma.
Two more considerations are needed to make this antipasto all it should be: The melon needs to be fresh and dead ripe, and the prosciutto must be sliced almost paper thin. After that it’s, so to speak, a piece of cake to serve this appetizer, one that has wide appeal.
What is the fascination with this delicious antipasto, one that Italian restaurants (lately, a number of contemporary American restaurants have jumped on the P&M bandwagon, too) have been serving for years? It’s a fact that one of the most popular pizza toppings in Latin countries — Spain and Mexico, in particular — is pineapple and ham (also known as Hawaiian pizza in some cases). Well, prosciutto is ham, and there is a sweetness to melon that is not too dissimilar to pineapple. Presto! A beautiful coupling of two distinct flavors. Another nice feature of this antipasto is that there’s no cooking involved.
The usual method of serving P&M is to lay thin slices of prosciutto over wedges of melon. That works just fine, and I have seen it done in some ways that is downright fashionable. For example, cut the melon (seeded and peeled) into wedges that are about ¾- (three-fourths) inches at the base. Set the wedges on a chilled plate with a space of about ½-inch (one half) between each wedge. Now drape the thinly sliced prosciutto over the melon wedges, letting the prosicutto fold itself gently into the space between the melon wedges. Serve with wedges of fresh lime.
Another method is to cut the peeled and seeded melon into one-inch cubes. Cut the slices of prosciutto into strips. Wrap a strip of prosciutto around each cube and insert a toothpick into the melon. With this method I like to serve the P&M on a long and narrow plate with wedges of fresh lime.
Then there’s the idea of using P&M as part of a salad. In some restaurants I have seen some very interesting and flavorful combinations. For example, consider pairing thin shavings (use a potato peeler to shave the flesh of the melon) of honeydew or cantaloupe with baby arugula and a light balsamic vinegar dressing.
Prosciutto & Melon Salad
Makes one serving (scale up in direct proportion)
1 cup fresh arugula, patted dry
2 wedges of honeydew melon, seeded, peeled, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 thin slices of prosciutto di Parma, each slice cut into 2 strips, lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Arrange the arugula in the center of a chilled plate. Place the cubes of melon around the base of the arugula. Criss-cross the strips of prosciutto over the arugula. Drizzle the olive oil and the fresh lemon juice over the salad. Serve.